Your best expert resource for discovering products and tools for your enterprise is the network you trust most and communicate with the most comfortably. It is well established that a great trait to bring into any professional situation is the ability to listen. Sometimes it is hard to remember that when you are being asked a lot of questions. So, the best way to get a jump start on listening is to come to professional meetings with a list of questions you want to get answered before the meeting wraps up.
One of my own discoveries is that whether I am conducting a meeting, moderating or just attending, seeking out people who might have experiences that could be educational for me is both a way to get into a nice business relationship but it also helps break the ice. It can be awkward going to meetings where we know nobody in advance. Having an agenda that involves meeting people is the ultimate networking model. You might notice that a lot of social networking sites, like LinkedIn, have included a function for asking questions. This has proven popular and I know several people who have leveraged it in beneficial ways.
I have just come from two days at the Infonortics Enterprise Search Summit in New York, The Gilbane Group conference in San Francisco or SemTech 2009 in San Jose. Here are a few suggestions on how to go shopping for great insight on search tools while establishing a relationship could nurture both you and those you engage for many years to come. Any one of these can start the conversation but think ahead about what you want to ask next once you have your initial answer:meeting and many of you will soon be attending the
Q: Hi, are you at this conference because you are just beginning to look for a search engine or to find answers about one you are already using? Depending on the answer you will want to find out what they have used, looked at, tested or are researching and what they have learned in the process.
Q: Hi, I see you are from ABC Corporation. How are you involved with search technology there? The answer will give you an idea what line of questioning you might pursue based on the person’s presumed experience and knowledge. IT people, developers, content managers or expert searchers will each have a different view of the technologies they have or would like to use. Any role offers a unique perspective for you to draw out and understand for your own institution. Knowing how different professionals view search in other organizations can give you insight into the people you may have to team with in your own organization.
Q: Have you heard any talks at this meeting that have been particularly helpful for you? What have you learned that you didn’t know about before? Follow up, and if you sense that some expertise you have might be interesting, sharing it can begin to build a trusted exchange that might prove helpful to you both.
Q: What are a couple of mandatory requirements for a search engine in your organization? Have you been using anything recently that you feel is serving you well or are you having problems? Any time you get a response from another attendee that indicates they are experienced and engaged with specific products, learn everything you can about their: selection process, implementation, deployment and user experiences. Talk to them about what their objectives were and whether and how those were met.
Going to meetings, chatting up attendees, asking questions, and sharing what you know are great ways to build a community of practice outside your internal communities. This brings fresh insights and gives you a valuable networking resource. Don’t leave without contact information so you can continue the dialogue. Continue it with online exchanges based on their preference for communication.
Finally, the expense of going to meetings is increasingly hard to justify. But the benefit of finding key vendors and others with a common purpose in one place where you can quickly coalesce around the topic of search (or any other topic) gives you an easy sociability that can then be sustained. To solidify what you have learned and from whom, write a trip report; broadly disseminate it to all those in your enterprise network or team, as well as your boss. This sharing will be appreciated and should underscore the value you know how to accrue from technical meetings. Learning is an essential part of job growth and letting others know that you do it well is important.